How To Create A To-Do List That Actually Gets Things Done

Time Management

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In this article I offer three key distinctions that will make your to-do lists more useful in actually getting things done.

Generally people assume that if they’ve written down three or three hundred tasks on a piece of paper or in a digital document – they’ve created a to-do list.

Not so fast.

The label “to-do list” has become an all-encompassing term for any list of tasks – but not all task lists are created equal. In fact the vast majority of the lists we generate are not to-do lists at all. Not by a long shot.

Here are the three main “to-do lists” that most people create – and how to make each of them far more effective.

1. A Reminder List: This is what most people call a to-do list. In actuality it is a list of items you’d like to do at some point in the future that you don’t want to forget. Hence, it is a reminder list. It is not usually prioritized and has no time constraints associated with any of the tasks.
If you are operating from a reminder list – you will feel frustrated and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tasks that feel like they all need to be handled NOW. Why? Because you are innocently and mistakenly calling this list a to-do list. This isn’t a to-do list but a very handy list to track those tasks you don’t want to forget. It’s usefulness ends here.

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2. A Wish List is a prioritized reminder list. The simplest way to prioritize your reminder list is to separate what truly needs to be done NOW vs. what can wait until LATER. Even better is to break down your list in the way that makes the most sense to you.
Generally at the end of the prioritization process you’ll have a great looking list of your key priorities. A LOT of people call this a to-do list. But again this is incorrect. This is a wish list of items you’d LOVE to get done NOW – but have no idea whether you have the time to actually accomplish these tasks. That’s what makes it a wish list.
If you are operating from a wish list – you will often find yourself feeling like you can’t catch up – no matter how fast you work or how much you get done – it will never feel like you are doing enough. Ironically this is when people often will say YES to more tasks, work longer hours, and don’t understand why they can’t seem to feel caught up and in control.

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3. A To-Do List: OK, now we’re getting down to it. You’ve captured your tasks and prioritized them, and the final critical step is to evaluate how much available time you have open in your schedule to complete your priorities.
As a result of connecting your to-do’s back to your schedule, you will undoubtedly need to prioritize at an even higher level, delegate more, and set legitimate boundaries around what you can actually say “Yes” to.
Creating an actual to-do list typically drops our list of real priorities down to 2 or 3 items a day. Or a couple of projects a week. We get much more realistic about what can happen and by when.
When you operate from a true to-do list you feel more in control and on top of what is getting done. You are able to say “No” far more easily and simply to others’ requests. You are able to stay far more focused about the priorities in the moment.

Important Pointers:

  • Everyone has a different way of navigating to-do lists – including not using them at all. If what you are doing is working for you – please ignore this post entirely and proceed as usual.
  • The frequency in which people create a true to-do list varies across the board – again work with what works for you – whether it is daily, weekly, monthly or when the moment strikes you to create one.
  • The format of your list and the medium in which you use to capture it – is actually less important than ensuring you are tracking, prioritizing, and connecting your list back to the amount of time you have available.

Are you ready for more?

I work with individuals and groups to help them find their best time system that actually fits who they are and how they want to operate. If you are ready to make your system really work for you, schedule a call or email me.

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